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NYC Porn Festival Gets Off: How Was Watching Porn in a Room Full of Strangers

Secret Project Robot is not a gigantic warehouse that you might imagine to find in other parts of Bushwick, but rather a modest, bar-equipped and almost cozy venue

Photo by Katarina Hybenova for Bushwick Daily

Secret Project Robot is not a gigantic warehouse that you might imagine to find in other parts of Bushwick, but rather a modest, bar-equipped and almost cozy venue. So it was a little weird watching a guy put his finger in Tila Tequila’s butt on the big screen in a room packed with strangers.

Journalists watching people watching porn

It didn’t help that standing in the back of the makeshift theatre was one of the largest assemblies of professional journalists I have ever seen in Bushwick. Miley Cyrus would have to do a striptease while sitting on Zosia Mamet’s face inside Roberta’s as it burned to the ground to rack up this level of coverage. And they all just stood there, watching us watching porn, seemingly trying to figure a way to portray this as some sort of epochal shift in sub-culture while scribbling in their little notebooks. It was kind of weird.

Fortunately, this odd voyeurism did not upset the atmosphere of casual openness and excitement at the NYC Porn Film Festival on Friday night.

Conversations to challenge the values around sex

The event delivered exactly what was promised by organizer Simon Leahy, which was to offer “conversations to challenge the older values around sex and sexuality” with a diverse roster of films and presenters in a space that was open to all, hetero, queer or otherwise.

Cindy Gallop from "Makelovenotporn.com"

After the opening segment from Tila Tequila’s “Back-doored & Squirting,” the audience treated to a presentation from Cindy Gallop, whose Powerpoint slideshow about her website MakeLoveNotPorn.com, which was informative about both the porn industry and our society’s perception on sex work in general.

Make love not porn

In case you haven’t heard of it, Make Love Not Porn is a website that features stars that “share real world sex that they have off camera with people they have sex with.” After the talk we were all treated to a few short Make Love Not Porn videos featuring a wide variety of people and interests, including a very intimate pegging video and an eight-minute video of a man who brought himself to orgasm by only touching his nipples.

It was during this last video that I felt the audience’s engagement with Porn Festival’s entire premise was really tested.

The thing about watching porn in a room full of people is that you can’t skip the stuff that doesn’t interest you personally. You can’t turn the volume down and you most certainly can’t whip your junk out for an intimate rub-out when there are reporters from Newsweek to The New York Times watching your every move. You simply have to sit and wait to see what happens.

So in the seventh minute of all of us watching someone’s penis slowly inch its way up their stomach until it finally lifted off, like a smooth, pale caterpillar reaching for a new leaf in a NatGeo documentary, I was quite relieved that people were laughing and even applauding as the little guy finally delivered its payload.

“My dick sees the light” or how strange it is to watch porn with strangers

The following showing was a presentation of Yaoi amine, which is a hentai subgenre that is made for straight women and features typically straight men having sex. It was hilarious. The compilation reel did its best to represent Yaoi from different time periods and the many tropes that can be found in the genre. My personal favorite recurring scene was that of schoolgirls getting so turned on by the sight of men kissing that they have a brain aneurysm and blood spurts out of their nose. Hot.

By the end of the night, a very clear lesson presented itself. When it isn’t being used as an aid to self-service, porn (especially the “professional” stuff) is probably the most ridiculously funny film genre in existence, which says a lot about our mainstream culture’s attitudes towards sex. Just check out these fantastic catchphrases delivered by Tila Tequila’s partner in the first film:

“It wants to go in your butt” (referring to, go figure, his penis).

“Yeah, touch my dick with those little tiny fingers” (they really are quite small).

“My dick sees the light” (he said upon entering Ms. Tequila’s butthole, which is apparently well lit inside).

And, his personal best, “on a scale of one to ten, how sexy do you like my sex?”

Stop Patriarchy is only for sex in its abstract form

"So you're saying you're that any depiction of people having sex is degrading?" on Friday afternoon, I was on the phone with Sunsara Taylor, a representative of organization Stop Patriarchy who announced their planned protests against NYC Porn Film Festival.

"No, we're not against every depiction. We're not against depiction of sex in abstract," she responded.

Photo by Katarina Hybenova for Bushwick Daily

Stop Patriarchy fights "enslavement and degradation of women" and demands that everybody stops watching porn because "if you can't imagine sex without porn, you're fucked," as one of their slogans proclaims. The group was particularly outraged by the sponsorship of the festival by Pornhub, which is pretty much "YouTube for porn," where users can upload their videos. According to Ms Taylor from Stop Patriarchy, Pornhub's site contains "the crudest, most racist stereotypes out there."

"It's not natural for humans to get off on degradation," she told me.

"But what if it's just a couple having consensual sex and taping it. Do you find this kind of sex also degrading?" I couldn't but wonder.

"Do you even know what "porn" means? It's from Latin, and it means female sex slave," she escaped my question.

After brunch, watch some gay porn

On Saturday early afternoon, my belly was still full of brunch when I kissed my husband goodbye. He was going to the gym, while I was headed to Meserole Street for some afternoon porn. "And don't get too horny," he waved goodbye. "I can't promise I won't," I waved back with a smile.

You know just a normal Saturday afternoon of a regularly boring straight couple.

On Meserole Street, I saw a handful of protesters from Stop Patriarchy with protest signs chanting "Danger, danger, woman is a victim;" and giving away fliers to whoever would listen. I smiled to myself as I stood in a short line for tickets. Yes, I was realizing that for the festival organizers this little protest probably meant just another headache but to me this protest was somehow lending legitimacy to the entire festival. I mean, what would a porn festival be if nobody was against it. That would be like Yankees winning the World Series a hundred times leaving Red Socks fans completely emotionless. But luckily, people have been noticed and Bushwick of 2015 was still a pioneering neighborhood as far as pushing of the boundaries of different sorts goes. This past weekend it was sex.

James Franco showed up only on screen

The atmosphere of Saturday afternoon at a small screening room at Secret Project Robot was almost loungy. The bellies of my fellow porn-viewers were probably just like mine recently filled with eggs and bacon. The crowd of regular Bushwick twenty- and thirty- somethings, got thicker as the lights dimmed, and James Franco appeared (unfortunately only) on the screen.

From Interior. Leather Bar.

Interior. Leather Bar” is an interesting project of the Hollywood (very straight) actor and a filmmaker Travis Mathews. Both men collaborated to re-imagine lost 40 minutes of the 1980 movie "Cruising," in which Al Pacino portrayed a cop who is sent deep undercover into the urban world of gay S&M and leather bars in the Meatpacking District in order to track down a serial killer of gay men.

The film unraveled as a documentary, featuring the discussions between the filmmakers and the cast members who were gay as well as straight. Probably the most memorable was a discussion between James Franco and Val Lauren, the actor playing Al Pacino's character. Throughout the film, Val is repeatedly forced to negotiate his boundaries during scenes on and "off camera," as unsimulated gay sex happens around him. "I hate that we were taught that sex is when a boy and a girl walk together off into the sunset.... Just please don't show gay sex because that's "the devil." This should be mainstream.... What's wrong with porn, everybody watches porn," said Franco in the film.

"Danger, danger, woman is a victim," the voices of four protesters were fading as I was leaving Secret Project Robot after the film, and only underlined the absurdity of the situation.

The rest of the festival concluded peacefully, and left us hopeful that despite the DIY character of a small cinema with a grainy screen, we have learned something; opened our minds perhaps a little bit more; accepted what we didn't know before;  as well as challenged the bigot "no porn ever" view just as much the mainstream porn objectification of women because no ends of that stick are particularly healthy.

Concluding shot at the end of NYC Porn Festival by Nick McManus.

Polaroid by Mick McManus

Text by Henry Miller (the first part) and by Katarina Hybenova (from "Stop Patriarchy is only for sex in its abstract form" till the end.)

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